Musharraf to meet Saudi King before Pak return

Islamabad: Ahead of his planned return to Pakistan later this month, former President Pervez Musharraf is expected to meet Saudi King Abdullah to discuss getting "foolproof guarantees" from Pakistani civilian and military leaders that he will not be arrested after his homecoming. 68-year-old Musharraf, currently living in self-exile in Britain and Dubai, intends to return to Pakistan on January 31.

He is expected to meet the Saudi King on January 22 to discuss getting "foolproof" guarantees from Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that he will not be arrested on his return or prosecuted for any of the crimes he has been charged with, The News daily reported today quoting its sources. The former President has made contacts with senior officials in the US to discuss the issue.

American-Pakistani businessman Raza Bokhari, one of Musharraf`s close associates, is expected to meet US Ambassador Cameron Munter in Islamabad to ensure that the former military ruler is not arrested or prosecuted, the report said.

The Saudi royal family has often played the role of an arbitrator in Pakistan`s domestic politics. It played a key role in facilitating a deal whereby former premier Nawaz Sharif was allowed to leave Pakistan after he was deposed in a military coup led by Musharraf in 1999. Saudi royals have also helped in settling disputes between top Pakistani leaders.

Musharraf is expected to announce the exact date for his homecoming only after he gets assurances from international players that he will not be arrested or prosecuted on the return, the report said. Musharraf`s spokesman Chaudhry Fawad said he was not aware of his possible meeting with King Abdullah but could confirm that the former army chief was going to Saudi Arabia on January 19 or 20 to perform `Umra`.

Fawad said he was unaware of any planned meeting between Bokhari and the US envoy but admitted that some world capitals, which are worried about the worsening situation in Pakistan, want Musharraf to come back and play his role as a politician. Musharraf plans to return to Pakistan on January 31, Fawad said.

The former President has been accused of wrongdoing in a slew of civil and criminal cases that were filed across Pakistan after he stepped down in 2008. An anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi has issued an arrest warrant for Musharraf for failing to cooperate with investigators probing the assassination of former Premier Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf has also been named in cases related to Baloch leader Akbar Bugti`s killing and the imposition of an emergency in 2007. It is in this regard that Musharraf wants guarantees from Washington and Riyadh that he will not be touched or jailed on his return, the report said.

A source close to Musharraf told the daily that he intends to get a "clear message conveyed to President Zardari and army chief Gen Kayani" from the US and Saudi Arabia that he should be allowed to pursue his political goals. The source said comprehensive lobbying for Musharraf`s return has already been done in Washington and the meeting between Bokhari and the US envoy is a follow-up of this effort.

According to Musharraf`s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party, the former President plans to return from self-exile with a large group of Pakistani-Americans and journalists from Pakistan and the West. APML leaders have been talking of preparing the party`s leadership for an "interim set-up."

The party has decided to spend Rs 117 million for a "Welcome Pervez Musharraf" publicity campaign while Rs 6.29 million will be spent on transport and other arrangements for a public meeting to be held on his arrival.